National lawmakers back unlimited presidential terms

2018-03-12 08:00     Comment:1

BEIJING – The nation’s lawmakers yesterday passed a historic constitutional amendment abolishing a presidential two-term limit that will enable President Xi Jinping and his successors to rule indefinitely.

The amendment upends a system enacted by Deng Xiaoping in 1982.

Voting among the National People’s Congress’ (NPC) nearly 3,000 deputies began in the mid-afternoon, with Xi leading members of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) seven-member Politburo Standing Committee in casting their votes. He placed his orange ballot paper in a red box bearing the official seal of state placed front and center on the stage inside the cavernous hall.

Rank-and-file deputies then rose to vote on the floor of the hall as instrumental music played. Ten minutes later, the process had ended and the deputies were asked to return to their seats while the votes were counted.

Shortly after 3:50 p.m., the results were read out over the public address system and flashed briefly on a screen in the hall. The deputies voted 2,958 in favor, with two opposed, three abstaining and one vote invalidated.

“The constitutional amendment item has passed,” the announcer declared to polite applause.

The 64-year-old Xi appeared to show little emotion, remaining in his seat with other deputies to listen to a report on the work of the NPC delivered by its outgoing chairman, Zhang Dejiang.

Previously, the terms of the president and vice-president were limited to two five-year consecutive terms.

The head of the NPC legal affairs committee, Shen Chunyao, dismissed concerns about the abolishment of the presidential term limit as “speculation that is ungrounded and without basis.”

Shen told reporters the party has accumulated extensive experience over its 90-year history that has led to a system of orderly succession to “maintain the vitality and long-term stability of the party and the people.”

“We believe in the future that we will continue with this path and discover an even brighter future,” Shen said.

The amendment also inserted Xi’s personal political philosophy into the preamble of the state constitution and wording that emphasizes the leadership of the CPC.

Officials have said the abolishing of the presidential term limits is aimed only at bringing the office of the president in line with Xi’s other positions atop the party and the Central Military Commission (CMC), which do not impose term limits.

While some scholars questioned the wisdom of the move, others said they saw value in sending the message that Xi would be setting policy for many years to come.

“In fact, the more Xi Jinping’s position is consolidated and the longer his governing time is to last, the more secure it is for the continuity of the policies,” said Liu Jiangyong, a professor at Renmin University’s School of International Relations.

The move is widely seen as the culmination of Xi’s efforts since being appointed leader of the party in 2012 to concentrate power in his own hands and redefine norms of collective leadership established over the past two decades. Xi now heads bodies that oversee national security, finance, economic reform and other major initiatives.

It has crushed faint hopes for political reforms among leading party and state officials who have repeatedly rejected any chance of adopting Western-style democracy and separation of powers.

To be sure, Xi’s confident, populist leadership style and tough attitude toward official corruption have won him a significant degree of popular support.

Zhao Minglin, 32, a vice president of an investment firm in Beijing, said it was easier for Xi to carry out his ambitious vision of
raising the nation’s living standards if more power were concentrated in his hands.

“I will definitely support this constitutional amendment and this government. This is a powerful and strong government,” Zhao said.

President Xi Jinping applauds after the results of a vote on a constitutional amendment are announced during the third plenary meeting of the first session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday. – AFP


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